Skills: Advancement System

These are the basic components of the Crude Roleplaying Engine skill use and advancement system:

Competent Characters, Competent Players
Player creativity and thoughtful investigation trump skill.  If a player suggests a course of action that is well within the character's ability then just let them do it, even if you think their Intelligence score isn't up to thinking it up.  If the player figures out something based on evidence that their character could possibly have seen then let them use that insight, even if the character's Wisdom score is abysmal.  If the player comes up with a well thought out way of socially engineering a social encounter, then let them succeed if it possibly could despite low Charisma.

In short:  Given any typical situation, if the character has even a marginal chance of success then just let them get away with it.

Think of it this way:  Don't make your players' attempts fail just because you think there should be a chance of failure.  In real life folks who aren't very good at things routinely find ways to compensate for and safeguard against their own inadequacies.  Assume that PCs will be taking every reasonable precaution to ensure success most of the time.  Also notify them of anything their characters might have noticed without specific investigation or inquiry.

If players seem like they're about to do something very unlikely to succeed, make sure you understand what they're going for.  Assume that the characters would aware of the risks involved unless there is a very good reason they could not be aware, and keep the players informed accordingly.  If an attempted action is just not likely or even possible to succeed at given the nature of the setting and NPCs, then notify the player before the PC takes action.

Or if the desired outcome is possible, but the technique being suggested is unlikely, then work with the player to determine a more likely course of action, something an average person in the setting might have thought of, or a person with the PC skills might have noticed, or another party member might have thought of.  Allow multiple solutions to a problem.  If the players think up an unexpected way to accomplish things, seriously consider letting it just succeed.

Skill Advancements:  The Master Chart
The following chart breaks down how skill levels correlate:

Save Bonus
Character Level

           * - Certain character races may start with skills in excess of 15 as explained in their descriptions.

Advancement - Skills are obtained in units called "advancements".  An advancement imbues a narrative quality of increased competence in the skill's relevant area, as well as numerical bonuses to relevant contests.  Each advancement builds upon the advancements purchased at earlier levels.  Characters may normally purchase only one advancement in a particular skill per character level, except at first level when most characters can purchase up to three advancements in the same skill.

Effectiveness - The effectiveness of a skill is simply the narrative quality of a skill, a word giving a general idea of how competent the character is in using the skill.  Frequently, rather than rolling any dice, the rules or the GM may just indicate that characters with a certain degree of effectiveness are able to reliably perform some function without unusual risk of failure or consequences.

Relative effectiveness might reveal who among the party is likely to identify the strange chemical smell first or what mastery of dancing ability and religious training is necessary to perform a ritual of brotherhood with the forest spirits.  Effectiveness can be a quick guide to help sort out these details on the fly.

Skill Bonus - The skill bonus is what gets added to the a roll any time a contest is necessary.  The roll is normally:

1d20 + Attribute bonus + Skill bonus

If this roll meets or exceeds another character's roll, or a standard difficulty (DC) then the attempt is a success.

Note that the skill rolls are normally only made under one of the following circumstances:
  • The chance of failure heightens the tension or drama of the situation.
  • The outcome of the action involves some serious element of risk and consequence.
  • Failure of the action would bring about some interesting complication.
Alternate Save Bonus - Normally a character's saving throw advances slowly with the character's level.  However, if the character has some expertise in a given area related to the effect they are saving against, then the character can use the alternate save bonus or their normal saving bonus, whichever is higher.  If multiple alternate save bonuses apply, then just use the highest available.

The relevance of the skill needed to make the alternate save bonus apply is up to the player to determine.  If they can make an interesting case as to why the character's knowledge of cooking would allow them to resist being charmed, then by all means apply the alternate saving throw associated with Cook if so desired. The rest of the group may overrule a skill saving throw bonus if they feel it is too far fetched to apply.

Minimum Character Level - NPCs may be non-combatants and learn skills at levels far in excess of what PCs have achieved.  However, although PCs may start out quite competent in a skill, a significant part of their story is tied to combat of one sort or another, and so it isn't until later levels that PCs have mastered fighting well enough to push beyond human limitations in other areas.

Training Skills
Training during character creation is largely a matter of backstory.  At first level this is easy since the character's life up to this point is the background of a snapshot, and could have involved anything.  However, during an adventuring career the time required for training might be more difficult to justify.  There are several ways this can be handled:

Prodigies all - Just ignore the improbability of learning three languages while traveling through the wilderness without reading materials or teachers in an area where none of the languages are written or spoken.  There are more interesting things to focus on.

This option overrides some or all of the more detailed skill-learning mechanisms below.  The rule here is simple:  Each time the character advances a level, one or more of their advancement slots may be spent on skills.  There are no other requirements.

On the job training - It makes some sense that a character would naturally get better at the skills they use routinely in their adventuring.  So sneaky types probably get better at their skills in that area, naturey types might get more practice in the woods or even in the city if they are communing with the local rat population quite frequently.  Heck, if an untrained character is just attempting social interaction more frequently, even if failing, that can count as training for social situations.

Basically, the player can attempt to justify the character's learning of a skill at level advancement by citing any three actions their character has attempted since last level advancement which relate to the skill at hand.

Careful observation / Stolen moments - If the character is new to a skill and doesn't have any real opportunities to train in a given area, say while adventuring, they can gain insight from watching other characters using appropriate skills, or by observing and reflecting on related phenomena, or by practicing during their small amounts of free time.

This method of development is less efficient than others.  So a character trying to progress in a skill via this method must declare their intent.  The skill advancement is not gained at the next character level advancement, but on the one after that.

Tutor/Reading materials - A trainer may assist the adventurer in learning a skill, or the adventurer may peruse extensive reading materials on the subject.  Either way the study takes at least a season (3 months) and requires 3 seasons worth of peasant's wages to pay for.  Lucky or clever adventurers may stumble across the necessary materials, bargain for them at lower cost, or take tutoring in trade (e.g. apprenticeship).  If fellow-adventurers are training each other then the tutoring is usually free and is gained at the next level advancement.

This route of skill acquisition can bypass level advancement and may be of great use if the characters have significant downtime.  Note however that bypassing level advancement only works for non-combat skills.

Dedicated research - Research must be undertaken when creating or re-inventing a skill which the character has not been previously exposed to.  The character must carefully study the problem before proceeding and work progresses slowly.  The costs in time and money are 10 times those for getting tutored.  However, for the sake of simplicity the GM may wish to assume that the character has been doing enough research, meditation, questing, etc. in the right vein to automatically gain the first level in a new skill at character level 10.